“God’s Wrath is Completed” – Revelation 15:1-8

John says he sees another “great and marvelous sign,” the third such description in the book (cf. 12:1 and 12:3).  The sign, in this case, is the last set of seven angels. These are the last because “God’s wrath is completed.” God’s wrath is associated with Israel’s rebelliousness, but the prophets extend that wrath to the eschatological events (Isa 26:20, Ezek 7:19, 22:24, for example).

In Revelation, God’s wrath is a featured attribute of God.  This is a righteous wrath, and is to a large extent anthropomorphic.  God’s anger is not at all like human wrath, he is justly punishing those who have offended his law. The wrath of God is nearly completed.  This can be translated “has been accomplished,” meaning that with these final judgments the wrath which was begun in chapter 6 has run its course.

MosesThe doors to the heavenly temple are opened and seven angels appear with the final seven plagues. The description of this location is as the temple and the tent / tabernacle.  The reference to the tent is likely to the tent of meeting, the place where Moses spoke face to face with the Lord, yet another allusion to events of the Exodus.

Temples with open doors were considered a “bad sign” in the ancient world. David Aune lists several sources indicating a temple door opening by themselves was a sign of God’s wrath (Revelation, 2:878). The whole temple is filled with the smoke of the glory of God.  This is a theophany: God’s presence is about to come to earth to finish his wrath.

After announcing that the final wrath of God has begun, John witnesses yet another worship scene in heaven (15:2-4).  This worship scene has elements from chapter 4-5, now familiar scenes of heavenly worship (sea of glass, martyrs worshiping, harps and singing).  In this case the martyrs are identified as those who have overcome the beast and the number of his name.  Presumably they have been martyred because they refused to take the mark of the beast.

The song they are singing is identified as the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. The Song of Moses is found in Exodus 15:1-18, Deut. 31:30-32:43; and Psalm 90. The problem with the Song of Moses in this context is that there is no literary relationship between the song recorded in Revelation and the various versions of the Song of Moses in the Old Testament.  Perhaps what follows is only the Song of the Lamb and the reader is assumed to know what the song of Moses is. More likely is that the context of the original song is what John wants to evoke. If you head someone hum a few notes of a famous song, the whole song comes to mind.

The Song of Moses is worship of God because he has overcome the enemies of Israel. In Exodus, God rescued his people out of Egypt and overcame the Egyptians and their gods.  There are obvious connections between the following bowl judgments and Exodus. Just as he has done in the past, God is once again working to redeem his people from an oppressive and evil empire.

7 thoughts on ““God’s Wrath is Completed” – Revelation 15:1-8

  1. I like this acknowledgment: ” This is a righteous wrath, and is to a large extent anthropomorphic.” I’d probably take this further than you do, but it seems clear here as elsewhere in the Bible (or other sacred literature), the writer’s (and his community’s) anger is being expressed vociferously… and projected onto God.

    Interesting that we see combined this high anger and a Utopian vision of the final act of history… both powerful human emotions. As to context, historically, I’ve not studied dating of Rev. in depth. I know some argue for a pre-70 date… one of the earlier books, with Paul’s. In this case, it may have been Nero and/or the initial move against Israel from the north in 66 that served to feed the anger/vision. Otherwise, post the 66-70 war, might it have been triggered by either localized or a brief but broader persecution that began I think in the mid 90’s and continued into the early 2nd century, during which Ignatius was martyred? (I know the preterist view is that it’s a backward view… does this, to these folks, place its date around or after 100?)

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    • There is a precedence for a wrathful God in the OT, the warrior-king metaphor is extremely vivid (God stomping on his enemies and staining his robe with their blood!) I think I could easily find quite a bit of this “projected wrath” in other apocalypses. God usually wins in this literature with a great slaughter of his enemies. This is all ancient literature, and ancient lit is often violent in ways which offend us moderns.

      As for the date, a date of mid 90s used to be a solid consensus (and still is as far as I can tell), whether one is a preterist or futurist (or idealist, but it matters less to them). But with the recent popularity of an evangelical form of preterism there is a need to date the book very early, before 70, in order to preserve the prophetic nature of Revelation. A non-evangelical does not care if Revelation looks back at the fall of Jerusalem, but if you want to take serious the claim the book is prophetic in a future-telling sense, then the date has to before the events.

      I am hoping these categories become less common, commentators are blending two of the categories (preterism with idealism, for example). I am confident the book was written in the 90s and John is looking back at recent events (fall of Jerusalem, the eruption of Vesuvius, the persecution under Domitian) and using them as the basis for a prophecy about the ultimate persecution at the end of the age. So I want to have preterist cake and eat it (in the future).

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      • Thanks for that meaty stuff! One thing of interest to me is combo of the apparent Jewishness of the audience (and author… not John the Apostle, in my view) and the continuing apocalyptic viewpoint that relatively late. I’m interested in understanding what I think there’s little real data on… when, why and how the spectrum of views like Paul’s (“thief in the night”), the Gospel writers’ and Rev. re. either an apocalypse/doomsday or “parousia” with that to follow… when those views faded and did so without it invalidating the authority of those who held them (wrongly). Actually, the failure of such prophetic vision in reasonable time may have affected some… as Epis. of Peter (2nd, I believe) implies some falling away may have resulted, or at least doubts entered.

        I’m recalling that I maybe should get the book a friend of mine (of the way past), Ted Grimsrud, wrote for his doctoral dissertation on Rev. He’s Mennonite (teaching at Eastern I think) and pretty progressive, so I imagine he had a lot of “deconstruction” and historical analysis going on…. I don’t recall the title, but may look it up or ask him if he’s still got a copy :).

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  2. Yes, Phillip. That’s the title. I see he has a couple later books. The one on “The Good War that Wasn’t” looks pretty interesting. Both from Mennonite roots (just Mom’s side) and from my sense of Jesus, I’m inclined toward a much more “pacifist” orientation for national policy… if not for pure pacifism. If he does as much around “just war” theory and other theo-political considerations as it looks like, this could be a valuable book… tho not one likely to have gotten a lot of notice. I’d not heard of it at all. And Ted didn’t mention it in our brief email exchange a few weeks ago (after many, many years of being out of touch with each other). One thing I highly respect Mennonites for… across their conser. to liberal spectrum, is their ACTION re. peacemaking, reconciliation and mediation… not just opposition to war. This is what it takes… and lots more of it than most of us are willing to give!

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